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One issue I have with StackOverflow is that sometimes, a well-meaning Stacker will answer my question incorrectly. I don't take offense, and it seems rude to down-vote a well-thought-out answer; especially in the case that the reason that the answer is wrong contributes to the question. See here for an excellent example: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2180306/windows-identity-foundation-how-to-get-new-security-token-in-asp-net

You can see that the poster meant to help, but didn't know that I had already tried doing what he suggested. I certainly wouldn't want to down-vote him, but I think it would be great if there were some sort of "This is not the answer" flag we could set.

"This is not the answer" will not cause anyone to lose reputation. It will simply indicate that the answer isn't helpful. It will be especially helpful when the OP comments why the answer isn't helpful. It will help Stackers give better subsequent answers and improve the quality of the discussion. Furthermore, it will go a ways toward solving the difficulty of distinguishing between answered questions that the user never bothered to accept an answer; and questions that have received an answer, but not a good answer.

With the current system, when the OP receives an unhelpful answer, all he can do is comment that it isn't helpful and down-vote if the quality is particularly low. This could be especially helpful in the event that a question receives an answer from a high-rep user and passer-bys give several up-votes because they're familiar with the user (without understanding the question and answer) and possibly put an unhelpful answer on top.

I would suggest a blue or purple (not red) icon for "This is not the answer". A red icon suggests that the poster who answered did something wrong; this is not necessarily the case!

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3  
It is your failure as an asker when you get answers that answer your question as written but don't answer your question as intended. You need to write better questions and give more detail, not a feature you can use as a crutch to continue hobbling along with poor questions. –  XMLbog Jul 21 '10 at 16:04
    
@Weblog, this may sometimes be the case, but sometimes a poster clearly misunderstands the question or gives a mistaken answer. See the example I link to. –  Rising Star Jul 21 '10 at 17:52
    
If an answer doesn't answer the question, downvote it. Again, no need for new functionality. –  XMLbog Jul 21 '10 at 17:55

4 Answers 4

Looks like you are misinterpreting the down-vote system. If you think, a comment is not sufficient, then downvote, because the answer is not useful (read the tooltip of the vote button). After that the user can delete his answer. So he can get back his lost rep after a rep-recalc. (thanks to Grace Note for the clarification in the comments)

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Actually, deleting the answer does not get back lost rep. I know, I've tried. –  Hello71 Jul 21 '10 at 14:31
3  
@Hello Yes, it does. It simply doesn't have an effect on your visible reputation. However, your actual reputation score, which you can see in a reputation audit, will not include any changes (positive or negative) associated with a deleted post. You can request a reputation recalculation in order to reset your displayed reputation to its correct value. –  Grace Note Jul 21 '10 at 14:39

It's a nice thought, but I don't see the need really: In the example you link to, it is absolutely clear that what Mark wrote didn't answer the question for you, even if it may be correct in itself.

I think this is already solved perfectly the way it is. If you want to make things more clear, add a comment explaining why the answer didn't help you. Alternatively, a comment saying "this is not the answer - I need xyz to be abc, not def" would work as well.

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When you say

With the current system, when the OP receives an unhelpful answer, all he can do is comment that it isn't helpful and down-vote if the quality is particularly low.

This is thankfully untrue. =D

Options

  1. Comment on the (as it turns out) unhelpful post. "I've tried this solution and it doesn't work because of XYZ. But thanks!"
    At this point you can choose to upvote them if their answer is very helpful in general, or not, if it isn't. You can give the user some time to modify their answer if they choose to.

  2. This step is critical. Edit your question to incorporate the steps you've already attempted. When people answer your question incorrectly, it should be a reminder that the problem isn't 100% percent on their end, it means that you could make your question clearer1. So if people are all suggesting things that you have already tried, then you should take your question, read every word of it, remove the ones that aren't important and add any new information that you have gained.

1 On the other hand, some people just miss the boat.

Questions should be formatted like this. Each section as short as possible.

Clear succinct title

  • Short summary of the problem and relevant problem context
  • Relevant technical context
  • Previously attempted solutions, and why they didn't work

If you've skipped any of those items, the answers will make assumptions.
If any of those items are too long, the answerers won't read them, and make assumptions.

The Editing section has the added bonus of bumping your question to the top of the [Active] tab, which should attract more attention to your improved question, and new people will provide better answers. =D

3) Bounty. This explicitly states that the answers received so far aren't good enough.

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Think about it in terms of the question being a reference, and not just a solution to your immediate problem. Even if you already tried what the answerer suggested, that doesn't mean someone with the same question did also.

If the answer is indeed not helpful in the context of the question it needs to be downvoted. Downvotes aren't personal or a commentary on the person who asked the question, it is a way to make the really good answers float to the top.

Also, you lose very little rep for a few downvotes, so it isn't like you are majorly penalizing someone by downvoting them. I do suggest you add a comment explaining the downvote though so they have a chance to improve their answer.

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